Getting Help for Combat Stress

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Learning to recognize the signs of combat stress in yourself, another service member or a family member who has returned from a war zone can help you call on the right resources to begin the healing process.

Combat stress and stress injuries

Combat stress is the natural response of the body and brain to the stressors of combat, traumatic experiences and the wear and tear of extended and demanding operations. Although there are many causes and signs of combat stress, certain key symptoms are common in most cases:

  • Problems sleeping
  • Uncharacteristic irritability or angry outbursts
  • Unusual anxiety or panic attacks
  • Signs of depression such as apathy, changes in appetite, loss of interest in hobbies or activities or poor hygiene
  • Physical symptoms such as fatigue, aches and pains, nausea, diarrhea or constipation
  • Other changes in behavior, personality or thinking

Combat stress sometimes leads to stress injuries, which can cause physical changes to the brain that alter the way it processes information and handles stress.

You should be aware of the following when dealing with a stress injury:

  • Stress injuries can change the way a person functions mentally, emotionally, behaviorally and physically.
  • The likelihood of having a combat stress injury rises as combat exposure increases.
  • The earlier you identify the signs of a stress injury, the faster a full recovery can occur.
  • If left untreated, a stress injury may develop into more chronic and hard-to-treat problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • There is no guaranteed way to prevent or protect yourself from a stress injury, but there are things you can do to help yourself and others recover.

Stress reactions

Different people handle stress — and combat stress — differently, and it’s not clear why one person may have a more severe reaction than another.

Here’s what you need to know about stress reactions:

  • Stress reactions can last from a few days to a few weeks to as long as a year.
  • Delayed stress reactions can surface long after a traumatic incident or extended exposure to difficult conditions has occurred.
  • An inability to adapt to everyday life after returning from deployment can be a reaction to combat stress.

How to get help

If you or someone you know is suffering from a combat stress injury, it is important to get professional help as soon as possible. Reach out to one of the following resources if you have symptoms of combat stress or stress injury, or if you are experiencing severe stress reactions:

  • Combat Stress Control Teams provide on-site support during deployment.
  • Your unit chaplain may offer counseling and guidance on many issues that affect deployed or returning service members and their families.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs has readjustment counseling for combat veterans and their families, including those still on active duty, at community-based Vet Centers.
  • TRICARE provides medical counseling services either at a military treatment facility or through a network provider in your area. Contact your primary care manager or your regional TRICARE office for a referral.
  • The Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence provides free resources on traumatic brain injury to help service members, veterans, family members and health care providers. Resources include educational materials, fact sheets, clinical recommendations and much more.
  • Veterans Crisis Line offers confidential support 24/7/365 and is staffed by qualified responders from the Department of Veterans Affairs — some of whom have served in the military themselves. Call 800-273-8255, then press 1, or access online chat by texting to 838255.
  • Non-military support channels such as community-based or religious programs can offer guidance and help in your recovery.

If you are suffering from combat stress, you are not alone. Reach out to get the help and treatment you need to be able to live your life fully.

Source: Military OneSource

The PACT Act and your VA benefits

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The PACT Act is a new law that expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. This law helps us provide generations of Veterans—and their survivors—with the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.

This page will help answer your questions about what the PACT Act means for you or your loved ones. You can also call us at 800-698-2411 (TTY: 711).

And you can file a claim for PACT Act-related disability compensation or apply for VA health care now.

 

What’s the PACT Act and how will it affect my VA benefits and care?

The PACT Act is perhaps the largest health care and benefit expansion in VA history.

The full name of the law is The Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

The PACT Act will bring these changes:

  • Expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for Veterans with toxic exposures and Veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras
  • Adds more than 20 new presumptive conditions for burn pits and other toxic exposures
  • Adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation
  • Requires VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA health care
  • Helps us improve research, staff education, and treatment related to toxic exposures

If you’re a Veteran or survivor, you can file claims now to apply for PACT Act-related benefits.

What does it mean to have a presumptive condition for toxic exposure?

To get a VA disability rating, your disability must connect to your military service. For many health conditions, you need to prove that your service caused your condition.

But for some conditions, we automatically assume (or “presume”) that your service caused your condition. We call these “presumptive conditions.”

We consider a condition presumptive when it’s established by law or regulation.

If you have a presumptive condition, you don’t need to prove that your service caused the condition. You only need to meet the service requirements for the presumption.

Read more about the PACT Act on the VA’s website here.

Improving Access to Healthcare

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Google Cloud announced that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is partnering with Google Cloud to help developers implement new tools and applications that will improve veteran access to VA services and data.

Serving more than 19 million veterans and their families, the VA is the largest healthcare provider in the United States and manages a network of 170 medical centers and 1,000 outpatient sites. In addition to healthcare, the VA administers key veteran services ranging from education opportunities and unemployment assistance to housing aid, pension benefits and more. Ensuring veterans can access these services easily is a top priority for the VA.

Through a $13 million, multi-year contract, the VA will deploy Apigee, Google Cloud’s application programming interface (API) management platform. The implementation is part of the continued evolution of the VA’s Lighthouse API program, providing developers with seamless and secure access to VA APIs in the development of new tools and services. For example, with Apigee, developers can use the VA’s Benefits API to create applications that help veterans submit and track electronic benefits claims and add supplemental documentation. Developers can also easily access the VA’s Health APIs to build new online tools that help veterans manage their health and access their medical records.

“Google Cloud’s Apigee will help the VA to continue scaling the VA Lighthouse API program for third-party developers in a cost-efficient manner, offering veterans more choice in the applications and tools they use to obtain access to their data and services,” said Dave Mazik, director, VA Lighthouse. “This partnership is a logical next step to better connect veterans with VA services, innovate with trusted third parties and continue to offer a high-quality, digital-first customer experience to which they’re accustomed to in other areas of their lives.”

APIs are how software talks to software and how developers leverage data and functionality at scale in a secure fashion. They are products that need to be actively managed so that organizations and developers can execute business strategies and achieve innovation at scale.

“We’re honored to support the VA and our nation’s veterans,” said Mike Daniels, vice president of Global Public Sector, Google Cloud. “By making it easier for developers and partners to build new applications through Apigee, the VA is spurring innovations that will ultimately enable veterans and their families to more easily access important benefits and services.”

The VA’s Apigee deployment — built on Apigee’s FedRAMP-authorized platform — will support the department’s existing efforts to safeguard veteran data, in compliance with standards such as HIPAA regulations and the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard for exchanging healthcare information electronically.

About Google Cloud
Google Cloud accelerates organizations’ ability to digitally transform their business with the best infrastructure, platform, industry solutions and expertise. We deliver enterprise-grade solutions that leverage Google’s cutting-edge technology — all on the cleanest cloud in the industry. Customers in more than 200 countries and territories turn to Google Cloud as their trusted partner to enable growth and solve their most critical business problems.

Source: Google Cloud

Veterans struggling with PTSD find hope and healing by working with horses

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Warrior Ranch Foundation train horses and matches them with veterans who need healing therapy

By Deidre Reilly, Fox News

Warrior Ranch Foundation rescues and trains horses — then matches them with veterans and first responders who can benefit from healing therapy.

Eileen Shanahan is the founder and president of the Warrior Ranch Foundation, headquartered in Calverton, N.Y.

She was joined by U.S. Army Ranger veteran Paul Martinez, U.S. Coast Guard veteran Maddie Feaster and Warrior Ranch trainer Gina Lamb — and together they explained how this equine therapy organization helps veterans and first responders heal from PTSD.

“We do horse interaction therapy,” explained Shanahan, who is also an editor with Fox News.

“What we do is we teach our participants about the nature of horses and the way horses communicate with each other — and that’s through body language.”

Warrior Ranch Foundation rescues and trains horses, then pairs them up with veterans and first responders who need their healing energy.

Shanahan explained that they teach simple exercises to learn to communicate with the horses, with a focus on safety.

“Now, think about it: We’re stepping into their herd — so it’s about respect and trust,” she said.

“You have to get the trust of that horse,” Shanahan continued. “When horses are out in the field seeing who the leader is, they’re poking each other, biting each other, kicking each other.”

She explained that they’re not hurting each other, noting that they each weigh about 1,000 pounds, “but when we enter their herd, that’s the only way they know how to communicate” — hence the foundation’s focus on safety.

Click here to read more on foxnews.com

Coping with Chronic Pain as a Veteran

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Chronic pain, one of the most common medical problems, is any pain that persists after your body has healed, usually after three to six months.

Some types of chronic pain include headaches, low back, neck, and other muscle, joint or nerve pains. These problems may be caused by an injury or an ongoing medical problem like arthritis or diabetes. In many other cases, the exact cause of chronic pain is unknown.

How you respond when you hurt is essential for managing any type of chronic pain. Many efforts to reduce pain in the short term create increased pain, suffering, and disability in the long term. This includes taking more medicine, resting or avoiding activities.

There are multiple treatment options available to treat your chronic pain. No single treatment is suitable for everyone. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn more about the possible treatment options and decide which ones are best for you.

Opioids and chronic pain

Opioids are natural or manufactured chemicals that can reduce pain. Healthcare providers prescribe them. Opioids work by changing the way your brain senses pain. Some common opioids are:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone

Healthcare providers used to think that opioids could safely reduce chronic pain when used for extended periods. New information has taught us that long-term opioid use may not be helpful or safe for treating chronic pain.

New knowledge leads to new practices

We have learned three key things through studying opioids and chronic pain. This new information has changed medical practice.

  • Opioids will only temporarily “take the edge” off pain no matter the dose. You will not be pain-free over the long term.
  • There are very significant risks that come with using these medicines. Higher doses carry greater risks with very little evidence of any additional benefit.
  • There is absolutely no safe dose of opioids. An overdose is possible even when you are using your opioids as prescribed.

Facts about opioids

Opioids have many effects in addition to reducing pain. They slow your mind and body and can cause shortness or loss of breath. Long-term opioid use can cause multiple other problems, including:

  • Increased pain
  • Accidental overdose or death
  • Opioid use disorder or addiction
  • Problems with sleep, mood, hormones and immune system

Treating pain without opioids

Many treatments can be helpful with chronic pain, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Non-opioid pain medicines
  • Physical therapy and exercise
  • Nerve blocks or surgery
  • Acupuncture, yoga, chiropractic

The best long-term treatment for chronic pain requires you to be involved in your own care. Self-management includes taking care of yourself in ways other than taking medicines, having surgery, or using other medical treatments. Cognitive behavior therapy can help you learn to respond differently to your chronic pain and reduce its effects on your daily life.

You should work with your healthcare provider to develop an individual treatment plan based on realistic expectations and goals. For most people, long-term improvements will depend more on what you can do to help yourself in lieu of what medical providers can do for you. Appropriate goals focus on improving your overall quality of life instead of providing urgent and complete pain relief.

Source: Veterans Health Library

Chicago fundraiser ‘Ruck March’ supports veterans in need

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Veterans at the Ruck March

By , Fox 32

With Memorial Day around the corner, one Chicago veterans group is preparing for their biggest fundraiser of the year.

The daily average of veterans who die by suicide has dropped, but the pandemic put a huge dent in services.

The big event later this month aims to show veterans they are not alone.

The Chicago Veterans Ruck March is 17 miles and raises money for veterans in need — 17 miles representing how many veterans die each day from suicide.

“The Ruck March is basically bringing awareness and it’s also giving soldiers a therapeutic value that they can wear their lost soldiers picture, they can do it in their honor,” said Carlos Vega, Veteran Outreach and Events Coordinator. “And also bring awareness that PTSD is an issue and it needs to be addressed.”

For eight years, the organization Chicago Veterans has hosted 300 community events in 45 Chicagoland communities.

“This is all about keeping us together as a team. One team, one fight. We’re all fighting one mission. We’re all battling ourselves,” said Army veteran Armando Vega, Organizer of Veterans in Recovery.

Vega has been sober for more than eight years. Through Chicago Veterans, he launched the Veterans in Recovery program. Money from the fundraiser helps keep the program going.

“It’s all about paying it forward, helping others and ain’t nothing better than helping another brother or sister veteran,” Vega said.

Click here to read the full article on Fox 32.

Retired Army captain runs 44 miles in effort to raise awareness for veterans’ mental health

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Kyle Butters crosses finsish line carrying a U.S. flag

By Bradley Bennett, Cincinnati News

In Pasadena, Maryland, Retired Army Capt. Kyle Butters could be seen running and carrying an American flag for an important cause last weekend. “This flag has been everywhere from Afghanistan (to) Kuwait (to) Turkey,” Butters said.

More than just sentimental value, the flag he carries is the symbol of freedom and sacrifice. Butters ran 44 miles total.
It’s all to raise awareness about mental health issues facing veterans.” It’s affected me personally.

I was medically retired from the Army due to mental health issues. I’ve also lost soldiers to suicide throughout my time in the Army (and) even since I’ve been out of the Army,” Butters said. Starting in his own Pasadena neighborhood, Butters ran 4 miles every four hours for a total of 22 miles a day to represent the estimated 22 veterans who commit suicide every day.

”They think that during the COVID pandemic, that (it has) gone up by as much as 20%,” Butters said. “I chose to use running as my platform because not every veteran has the physical ability to do what I do, and people pay attention when you do big distances. ”He’s raising money with the run — more than $12,000 — to support the Infinite Hero Organization. ”They provide grants to veterans and also to research causes, whether it’s brain injury, PTSD, even physical disabilities,” Butters said. Butters said he’ll be back at it again next year and hopes this is something that can spread to other states with the ultimate goal of normalizing tough conversations that could save lives.

Read the complete article here.

Diversity in the Healthcare Industry, at Every Step

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Abbott and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) recently announced a $37.5 million initiative to empower diverse small businesses to help create a more diverse healthcare supply chain. The initiative will provide diverse small-business owners with the tailored solutions, support and resources they need to grow, compete and create jobs – enabling greater diversity in healthcare and a more inclusive supply chain for Abbott and other healthcare companies.

This work advances Abbott and LISC’s shared commitment to create a more diverse healthcare industry and generate jobs and stronger economies in underinvested communities.

This funding opportunity is open to qualified diverse small businesses and offers support through:

  • Growth capital: interest-free capital to help businesses overcome hurdles to expansion, such as investing in management systems to comply with regulatory and environmental requirements
  • Business loans: flexible, affordable loans that would not typically be available through conventional lenders
  • Tailored coaching and technical assistance: targeted, customized support, including help with fulfilling investment and loan requirements and identifying and addressing specific business challenges

Eligible diverse small businesses for program participation and funding must be:

  • Diverse-owned, defined as those that are majority owned by people of color (including Black, Latino, Asian and Native Americans), women, veterans, people with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTQ, and other historically underrepresented groups;
  • In business for more than two years and are based in the U.S. with an annual revenue of $250,000 or more; and
  • Focused on manufacturing nutrition, diagnostics, medical devices or other health technologies, or offering business-to-business products and services that the healthcare industry can use.
  • Sole proprietors are not eligible for the program.

For more information about this initiative, please visit the LISC site. And to learn more about Abbott’s work to support a more diverse supply chain, visit Abbott’s site.

February is National Salute to Veteran Patients Month

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The purpose of the National Salute to Veteran Patients Program is to pay tribute and express appreciation to Veterans, increase community awareness of the role of the VA medical center and encourage citizens to visit hospitalized Veterans, and to become involved as volunteers.

The week of February 14 each year is your opportunity to say thank you to a special group of men and women, more than 98,000 Veterans of the U.S. armed services who are cared for every day in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, outpatient clinics, domiciliaries, and nursing homes.

During the National Salute, VA invites individuals, Veterans groups, military personnel, civic organizations, businesses, schools, local media, celebrities and sports stars to participate in a variety of activities at the VA medical centers. The activities and events include special ward visits and valentine distributions; photo opportunities; school essay contests; special recreation activities and Veteran recognition programs.

Volunteers are a priceless asset to the Nation’s Veterans and to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The week also provides an opportunity for the community to become acquainted with the volunteer opportunities within the medical center. To locate your nearest Virginia VA facility to see how you can volunteer click here.

Source: VA

The Leading Cause of Blindness for Veterans

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Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness for veterans over 60. But blindness from glaucoma can often be prevented with early treatment.

The disease damages your eye’s optic nerve. It usually happens when fluid pressure builds up in the front part of your eye. That extra fluid increases the pressure on the optic nerve. It can reduce blood flow to the optic nerve, causing damage and visual field loss.

Some forms of glaucoma can damage the optic nerve from reduced blood flow, even when the eye pressure is in the normal range during the eye exam. This can happen when the eye pressure becomes high at other times of the day and the patient does not feel the pressure elevation.

It can also happen when blood flow to the optic nerve becomes reduced below a critical level. That can happen during periods of very low blood pressure, even during sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea can adversely affect glaucoma in some patients who take their hypertension medications right before bedtime, it can cause the blood pressure to drop too low during hours of sleep, and may also reduce the delivery of oxygen to the optic nerve.

VA research provides valuable tools for vision treatment

VA is at the forefront of vision research and glaucoma is one of its top priorities. A current study by Dr. Markus Kuehn is a Bioassay to Predict the Development and Progression of Glaucoma. The VA Rehabilitation, Research, and Development Division sponsors the study.

The project uses the recent discovery that glaucoma affects the development of a cellular autoimmune response that can further reduce vision. The investigators are testing if the strength of the reaction from a blood sample is predictive of future loss of vision and quality of life of the patient.

Using artificial intelligence to diagnose glaucoma severity

Another Iowa City VA study by Drs. Randy Kardon, Mona Garvin, Ray Wang, Young Kwon Johannes Ledolter and Michael Wall is using a new type of artificial intelligence of image analysis. This intelligence is called a deep learning variational encoder. It diagnoses the severity of glaucoma, detects the earliest signs of worsening vision and its response to treatment.

They are also relating the eye imaging to Veteran quality of life.

Early identification of patients at high risk to develop vision loss allows more aggressive treatment before the damage occurs. The development of a predictive assay and new types of eye imaging analysis will provide eye care providers with valuable new tools to preserve the quality of life for Veterans.

Veterans enrolled in VA health care can schedule appointments directly with Ophthalmology or Optometry without a referral from primary care. Schedule an eye exam at your VA health care facility today.

Source: va.gov

At the Intersection of Hearing and Mental Health

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By Brian Taylor, Doctor of Audiology & Senior Director of Audiology, Signia

When people think of hearing loss, many think of being unable to hear. Period. That’s understandable. A literal loss of hearing — the onset of silence — can have dramatic ramifications for a person’s life.

But other forms of hearing loss, characterized by difficulty hearing, can have equal impact. And we’re learning, especially in the case of military veterans, that it can have a related effect on their mental health.

Two of the most prominent conditions affecting veterans are noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While prevalent in the general public, each is a uniquely common health problem for veterans based on the important jobs they’re asked to perform. Also common is tinnitus, that ringing in the ears that afflicts about 10 percent of Americans but disproportionally affects veterans. The combination of the three presents a possible long-term health concern that requires coordination among disparate specialties to handle effectively.

According to a recent study of injured military personnel, hearing loss and PTSD may be linked. The study’s authors found that “the odds of PTSD are approximately three times higher in individuals with postinjury bilateral hearing loss [hearing loss in both ears] when compared to personnel without hearing loss.” The reason, at least in part, is that hearing loss — even partial — can affect a veteran’s ability to listen and communicate, which decreases their quality of life and exacerbates mental health conditions, such as PTSD.

The Case for Coordination

As an audiologist, I’ve seen the mental health effects of hearing loss firsthand. Again, a person doesn’t have to experience total hearing loss to suffer. NIHL, in particular, affects communication because it impacts sound frequencies that are common in speech. NIHL makes hearing voices more challenging, especially in spaces where ambient sound competes to be heard. As a result, those affected strain to hear, which often leads to fatigue and difficulty concentrating, or they may withdraw from social situations, adversely affecting their mental health.

hearing aids shown inside a plastic caseIn the case of tinnitus, the study’s authors found that because it often co-occurs with NIHL, it may also be associated with higher rates of PTSD. In some cases, tinnitus may impact traumatic flashbacks. “Sounds triggering exacerbation of tinnitus similarly affected PTSD symptom severity,” they wrote.

Tinnitus is not hearing loss, but research has indicated it can be a sign of hearing loss to come. Therefore, like hearing loss, tinnitus requires early identification and treatment.

In fact, veterans and their healthcare providers need to be on the lookout early for all interrelated signs of NIHL, tinnitus and PTSD. Delay could have a serious impact on quality of life. There also should be fresh coordination between audiologists and mental health professionals. In short: veterans with bilateral hearing loss need to be monitored for PTSD.

Better Hearing in Noise

On the audiology side, technology now exists that can dramatically improve a veterans’ ability to hear and communicate in various settings, addressing one of the subtler effects of NIHL on mental health. Signia recently created a platform called Augmented Xperience that features hearing aids with two different microprocessors built in to handle speech and background noise separately. This kind of split processing in hearing aids makes it so NIHL sufferers can listen and communicate more effectively in all environments — quiet, noisy or normal.

Most of Signia’s hearing products also include innovative notch therapy technology for helping suppress tinnitus. Notch therapy identifies the wearer’s unique tinnitus frequency and creates a frequency notch in their hearing aids that ultimately offsets and silences the tinnitus.

Unfortunately, most primary healthcare professionals don’t automatically screen for hearing loss or tinnitus, and patients usually don’t recognize the problems until they’ve been examined. Fortunately for veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes the heightened risk of NIHL and tinnitus from military service and covers diagnostic audiology from the moment a veteran exits the service. Healthcare professionals and veterans themselves should expand from there and begin exploring the possible connections between a vet’s hearing loss and PTSD.

Dr. Brian Taylor headshot
Dr. Brian Taylor, Doctor of Audiology and Senior Director of Audiology for Signia.

We know hearing loss and PTSD are significant public health problems among military veterans. Although further research still needs to be done, there are indications that identifying and treating the former through hearing technology that enhances human performance can begin to address the latter. In all likelihood, a coordinated approach to hearing and mental health can boost veterans’ quality of life.

Brian Taylor is a Doctor of Audiology and Senior Director of Audiology for Signia. He is also the editor of Audiology Practices, a quarterly journal of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, editor-at-large for Hearing Health and Technology Matters and adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Taylor has authored several peer reviewed articles and textbooks and is a highly sought out lecturer. Brian has nearly 30 years of experience as both a clinician, business manager and university instructor. His most recent textbook, Relationship-Centered Consultation Skills for Audiologists, was published in July 2021.

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. Multiple Hire GI Hiring Events During June-December!
    June 21, 2022 - December 8, 2022
  4. Commercial UAV Expo Americas
    September 6, 2022 - September 8, 2022
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    September 6, 2022 - September 8, 2022